| Mary Quattlebaum |
ERIC Dinerstein remembered an especially helpful elephant when he was studying rhinos in Nepal, a country in South Asia.
He didn’t realise he had dropped his research notebook until the elephant he was riding reached down with its trunk, picked up the notebook and returned it to him.
“Amazing,” said Dinerstein, with a laugh. “Elephants are among the most sensitive, intelligent animals on Earth.”
As a wildlife conservationist, Dinerstein (pronounced DIN-er-steen) works to protect wild animals and their habitats.
About 40 years ago, elephants helped him move around the jungles of Nepal as he gathered information on tigers and rhinos.
And now elephants, tigers and rhinos rumble, glide and canter through his novel A Circle of Elephants.
The story follows 13-year-old Nandu, who works at the Royal Elephant Breeding Centre, and his favourite elephant, Hira Prashad. One of Nandu’s closest friends, Rita, works there, too. She cares for the elephant calves, orphaned rhinos and spotted deer.
The book is the sequel to Dinerstein’s first one, What Elephants Know, and continues the adventures of Nandu and Hira Prashad.
Through his writing, Dinerstein brings the countryside alive. You hear the trumpet of elephants and the shriek of the brain-fever bird, see the red soil and feel the intense heat.
But there is danger, too.
Poachers are closing in. They are after the local rhinos for their horns and Hira Prashad for his long, beautiful tusks. Horns and tusks can be sold for a great deal of money, and used as medicine and carved into ivory trinkets, respectively.
Nepal and many other countries have strict laws that protect elephants and rhinos. But in the 1970s, when the book is set, poaching was a huge problem. Nandu and his friends must find a way to stop the poachers and safeguard the animals they love.
Kids who read Dinerstein’s books often wonder how, like Nandu, they can help protect wildlife.
“Start close to home,” said Dinerstein, by phone from Big Sur, California, where he and other scientists were testing a new type of camera to catch poachers before they kill.
He suggested that young people watch and enjoy the wild animals that are part of their everyday life. Kids might learn more about the habits and needs of local insects, birds, squirrels and rabbits – and create backyard habitats that provide food and shelter.
That’s how Dinerstein got his start.
As a kid growing up in Toms River, New Jersey, he had no interest in nature, he said. He liked to read and watch television. He went to college to study filmmaking.
Then one day, Dinerstein glimpsed an incredible bird – and had no idea what it was. After discovering it was a green heron, Dinerstein decided to carry nature guides with him so he could identify other wild creatures.
“I became aware of a whole world I wanted to learn more about,” he said.
Dinerstein became a biologist and worked in Nepal first as a Peace Corps volunteer and later for the Smithsonian Institution. For 25 years, he travelled the world as a conservation scientist for the World Wildlife Fund.
Dinerstein now works for a non-profit company called Resolve and develops technology to better protect endangered animals.
And he writes children’s books. Dinerstein said that he gets some of his best ideas while walking his dogs in the woods close to his home in Cabin John, Maryland.
Dinerstein is finishing the third and final book in the Nandu series, and he’s completing a novel with an intriguing hero: a wrinkle-faced bat, which he studied in Costa Rica.
“I feel very lucky,” he said. “I got to live these experiences with animals – and now I get to relive them through the writing.” – The Washington Post